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Reversal of fortunes?
Aug 28, 2009

Before Blaise Bryant rushed for 249 yards in 1994 and the most yardage for a running back in Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ history, the talk in the locker room was about the need for a win to boast team morale.

Before Fred Reid rushed for 260 yards  on August 21 this year to surpass Bryant’s record, the talk was about the need for a win to boost team morale and the sagging expectations of fans.

In 1994, the Bombers were solidly entrenched in second place in the Eastern Division, but had been in a two-game mid-season skid, losing their previous game by 31 points, despite having home field advantage.

In 2009, the Bombers were in a two-game skid and tied for last place in the division prior to the away game at B.C. Place with a 5-2 record, which was far down in the standings to division-leading Montreal. The Alouettes manhandled the Bombers at home a week earlier and limited Reid to only 50 yards on the ground. 

The win in B.C. “catapulted” the Bombers to three wins and third place in the standings, although they’re a scant two points ahead of lowly Toronto and eight points behind first-place Montreal.

In 1994, Free Press sports writer Dave Supleve called it a “must-win situation” for the Bombers.

In 2009, linebacker Barrin Simpson told Free Press sports writer Gary Lawless before the game against the Lions, the Bombers were in a “must-win” situation.

Bomber defensive lineman Doug Brown was slightly more ominous prior to the game, telling his teammates, that since AC/DC had kicked them out of their locker-room for the band’s Saturday night concert, if they didn’t win: “Well, your locker is already cleaned out. You might as well not come back.”

Byrant saved the day for the 1994 version of the Bombers, while Reid literally saved his teammates from the soul-searching that comes with becoming noted as hapless losers. 

Reid’s accomplishment was a more spectacular effort than Bryant’s under the circumstances. As well, Reid needed just 26 carries to Byrant’s 34 to take over the all-time Bomber rushing title for a single game.

Not to be forgotten on the record-breaking day for Reid, running back Yvenson Bernard carried the ball 11 times for 112 yards. Nor can the defence or the special teams be denied their role in the Bomber’s overwhelming 37-10 victory.

Remarkably, the two running backs from different eras blazed their way into the record book using what amounts to basically the same playbook.

“To go forward like no Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ running back had done before, all Blaise Bryant had to do was take a step back,” wrote Supleve, when reporting on the September 17, 1994 game. “Lining up deeper in the Winnipeg backfield, Bryant rammed the ball back through the heart of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at a record clip.”

Bryant’s 249 yards helped the Bombers to a 38-21 Winnipeg win.

Fifteen years later, Reid had also lined up well back from the offensive line, and he was rewarded with a new record, just short of CFL record holder Ottawa running back Ron Stewart’s 287 yards running on October 10, 1960. George Reed of Saskatchewan is second on the all-time list with 268 yards (1965).

In order to attain such a distance, it is essential that all elements work in combination, and the offensive line opened up holes in the defensive line for Reid that, as the saying goes, “A Mack truck could drive through.”

After the game, Reid readily conceded that the offensive line did a great job opening up holes for him, enabling the running back to continually burst into the Lions’ secondary, including a 52-yard scamper that ended up as a touchdown — he had two touchdowns in the game.

For eating up the yards on August 21, Reid was named by the league as the CFL’s Offensive Player of the Week, which was an absolute given.

“Blaise is the type of back that if you give him a crease he can go,” said Winnipeg quarterback Keithen McCant in 1994, the third-string signal-caller, who was pressed into service following injuries to starter Matt Dunigan (he holds the single-game passing record for the Bombers of 713 yards, recorded on July 14, 1994 vs. Edmonton) and back-up Sammy Garza. McCant said Byrant’s rushing helped keep Hamilton’s defence at bay, allowing him to finally get into a passing rhythm.

In 2009, Reid’s rushing game relieved some of the defensive pressure on struggling quarterback Michael Bishop, but the starter’s passing game still requires some touching-up.

When asked about hitting the Hamilton defensive line cleared away by hall-of-fame tackles Chris Walby and Miles Gorrell, Bryant replied, “It was like driving on a clean road behind the snowplow.”

In 2009, Reid called his game against B.C. the highlight of his career, but 15 years earlier, Bryant said, he had a better outing in his last college game, racking up 330 yards. “Up to now that was the highlight of my career,” said Bryant. “Now I have a new memory.”

Reid leads the CFL in rushing with 765 yards, despite the Montreal debacle and thanks to the spectacular outing in B.C. 

According to a Canadian Press report, Lions linebacker JoJuan Armour was deeply disappointed about the new rushing record.“They lined up and kicked our (butt, expletive removed),” said Armour. “That’s the bottom line. It’s embarrassing.”

Overall, the Bombers had 393 rushing yards compared to just 83 for B.C. The last time any player beat-up the Lions for over 200 yards was in — get this — 1994, when Mike Pringle of the defunct Baltimore Stallions rushed for 216 yards.

In 1994, Winnipeg ended up first in the eastern Division standings, but lost the Eastern final to Baltimore, which lost the Grey Cup to B.C.

Won’t it be a pleasant surprise if the amazing record established by Reid contributes to a complete reversal of the Bombers’ fortunes, resulting in a late season climb up the standings’ ladder, just as Byrant in 1994 restored the morale of the Bombers and led them to first place in the East.